It’s crunch time for Bob Iger if the outgoing Disney executive chairman wants to announce another gig before he leaves the company at the end of the year. Several options are still on the table, I’m told, but one potential scenario could be particularly interesting: NBA owner. Iger has told at least a couple friends that he’d love to front a bid for the Phoenix Suns if the hoops team were to become available, which it just might in the next couple months.
To be clear, there haven’t been any formal conversations, and Iger’s Disney rep declined to comment. But if you haven’t been following, Robert Sarver, the Suns’ controlling owner, was the subject of a damning ESPN report earlier this month that alleged a bunch of bad behavior, including using the n-word in front of a Black head coach, passing around pictures of his wife in a bikini, and asking a female employee if he “owned” her. NBA commissioner Adam Silver launched an investigation of Sarver, the results of which are expected in the next few months.
If the probe fails to unearth additional bombshells, most NBA people believe Sarver won’t be forced to sell. But smoke often signals fire, and the investigation is being handled by the Wachtell Lipton law firm, which also looked at L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s use of racist language before Sterling was forced to sell the team in 2014. Steve Ballmer then bought the Clippers for $2 billion as his follow-up move after stepping down as Microsoft C.E.O.
Could Iger follow that path? It makes sense, according to a couple NBA insiders I asked. He’s close with Silver, thanks to years of Disney’s ABC and ESPN broadcasting games. And he’s even closer with Chris Paul, who was president of the NBA Players Association when the Covid “bubble” games were staged at Disney’s compound in Florida, and who happens to play for the Suns. “I consider him a very good friend,” Iger said of Paul last year. Iger has long harbored sports ambitions, at one point pursuing an NFL team in his L.A. hometown, which, of course, is just a short 45 minute private flight to Phoenix. And Iger and his family are close with billionaire private equity mogul Tony Ressler and his wife, Jami Gertz (yes, the actress), who own the Atlanta Hawks. I’m sure Silver and the NBA owners would love to welcome a guy like Iger into the fold.
But there are big hurdles. First, the team isn’t currently for sale. Even if the Wachtell report comes back damning, and Silver moves to oust Sarver (a big if), the Suns have co-owners, and two sources tell me there is a right of first refusal on Sarver’s interest. That would have to be dealt with. Plus, the NBA would be obligated to go through a normal sale process to maximize the purchase price. The Suns have been valued at $1.7 billion and would likely sell for more than $2 billion, meaning Iger would almost certainly need partners.
But Silver holds a lot of power over the process, and what he wants tends to happen. If everything falls in place, Iger could get that gracious Disney exit he has coveted. My Puck colleague Dylan Byers reported last week that Iger has extended his exit date by a month to the end of January—which is right before the NBA All-Star break, where the announcement of a sale would make big headlines. If that happens, Iger could enjoy a sweet irony: Disney’s ESPN journalism might have paved the way for his post-Disney life as a sports owner.